CRIME: Two Weeks on Venus

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It was a happy day for Harold Jesse Berney when he ran into Pauline Goebel in Washington, D.C. six years ago. Happy for Pauline, too. Berney told the fascinated Miss Goebel that he was a manufacturer of TV antennas, and was about to embark upon the production of a revolutionary device called the "Modulator." Wide-eyed, Pauline listened to Harold's story—and a real whopper it was. Harold had been in touch with officials of the planet Venus. Matter of fact, he had visited Venus in a flying saucer. And after two wonderful visits with his Venutian hosts, he had won the honor of presiding over the earthly development of the Modulator, which could collect energy—much more powerful than atomic power—from the atmosphere.

Pauline, a legal secretary (who is now 53), was enthralled. She contributed her carefully garnered life savings to the new Modulator corporation; her $38,000, in fact, put it in business. Between hurried business conferences Pauline and Harold rounded up some more investors—including a fellow from Delaware named Pleasant McCarty, who added $20,000. Pauline typed the manuscript of a book that Harold wrote about his experiences in space (title: Two Weeks on Venus).

President & Pleasant. Last October Harold decided it was about time to go back to Venus on business. A month later Berney's wife got some bad news in Washington. From Eagle Pass, Texas came a package containing some of Harold's personal effects and $300 in cash. With this was a letter from a Mr. Ucellus, of Venus. Harold, wrote Mr. Ucellus sorrowfully, had died on Venus. Pauline got the word, and she was worried. She wrote a letter to the President on the assumption that only high-ranking U.S. officials knew of the Modulator. Ike never replied.

Then, surprisingly enough, Harold himself wrote a letter to his wife. Apparently a funny thing had happened after he died: those ingenious Venutians had brought him back to life. Harold said that he would write again soon. Mrs. Berney was skeptical. Pauline began to wonder. Pleasant McCarty began to wonder. The Federal Bureau of Investigation heard of the business, and it began to wonder.

Cosmic Con. Close by Mobile, Ala., and a long way from Venus, the FBI found Harold running a sign-painting business, arrested him for absconding with the Modulator investors' money, gathered the facts and handed them over to a federal grand jury. From what the FBI had to say, it was clear that Harold's "cosmic con" signaled the decline of such classic earth-bound dodges as the Gypsy Swindle, Pigeon-Drop, Sick Old Man and Handkerchief Switch. But Spaceman Berney, who has a long record of convictions for embezzlement and fraud, said there had been a terrible misunderstanding. He has never been near Venus, he said. And he doesn't even know any Mr. Ucellus.